Dublin defender Paddy Smyth believes his team are more capable of contending with the pace and shape of Cork than they were last year when they lost the counties’ All-Ireland first-round qualifier.
Mark Coleman slotted into sweeper in the game in Thurles last November as Cork matched what Dublin were doing in their half of the field and it worked a treat as the Blarney star dictated proceedings with his distribution.
Despite the extra defender, Smyth was also caught out by Jack O’Connor’s speed for Declan Dalton’s goal. The Clontarf man says Dublin will return to Semple Stadium with more grounds for optimism.
“We have probably identified a couple of things from that game, just structurally, and we’ve been working on them, and obviously there was a small lead-in to the whole season last year so it probably felt just a bit disjointed at times. But we’ve had a good lead-in now.
“So structurally we definitely feel defensively more solid. Obviously, yeah, they have great pace, they have some great attackers but we definitely feel a bit stronger at the back and we have to hurt them more on the scoreboard up front, I’d say. We didn’t hit our levels last year and whenever you don’t hit your levels, it’s a long time waiting.”
Unless O’Connor moves to full-forward, Smyth is likely to be marking somebody else as he is expected to take the place of injured Eoghan O’Donnell at full-back. The 23-year-old performed well in the role in the Leinster final defeat to Kilkenny after O’Donnell had to retire early with his hamstring complaint.
“Once you are on the pitch, it’s just slotting back into positions, I am fairly comfortable inside. Obviously losing Eoghan was a huge loss, probably one of the best full-backs in the country, but I thought defensively we coped with it pretty well.”
Behind Smyth, goalkeeper Alan Nolan gave an exhibition in the Leinster semi-final win over Galway and, at 36 years of age, doesn’t look to be losing any sharpness. Dropped by current Cork selector Ger Cunningham in December 2015 when he was Dublin manager, the St Brigid’s man hasn’t looked back.
“Nolie is a quality keeper, he’s shown that before when he got his chance a good few years ago,” says Smyth of the time when he was auxiliary to Gary Maguire.
“He’s done a lot of time as being a second keeper. He is comfort blanket behind us, just that experience, talking to us the whole time in the full-back line. It’s just great to have that bit of extra protection there behind you.”
Although the attention is solely on Cork, Dublin must arrest a poor run of results in Semple Stadium and it’s eight years since they last reached an All-Ireland semi-final when they lost to Cork. “(We’re) probably just focusing on Cork, anything after that there’s no point getting too concerned about it. I was at that semi-final against Cork in 2013. But yeah, it would be a big step for us but not focusing too much ahead.”
Unlike Dónal Óg Cusack, he fully believes Dublin have enough scoring forwards. “Look, there’s some quality forwards. Donal Burke, he could score from anywhere really. Danny (Sutcliffe) has been on fire this year. Obviously, our conversion against Kilkenny wasn’t at the level we wanted to achieve. Just trying to spread the scoring responsibility around. Hopefully chip in from the backs as well.”
Cork’s finish to their qualifier win over Clare last Saturday impressed Smyth. “Would have been some ending had it gone the other way. They’re good. Quality forwards. A lot of pace, a lot of good attackers. Physical around the middle. Just trying to identify their strengths, nullify them, try and spot any weaknesses.”